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Editorial: Innovative class provides real-world experiences

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Franklin Community High School teacher Don Wettrick wanted a course that improved students’ research, communication and collaboration skills but also showed them how to use those skills outside school.

He handpicked the 22 students for the class, knowing the format wouldn’t work for everyone. Students select their projects and are graded based on the projects’ goals they set, whether those goals cover Indiana’s academic standards and how hard they’re working to attain the goals. To get a good grade, students need to be able to work independently and prove they’ve done everything possible to meet their deadlines.

The goal of the class is to start showing students the kinds of jobs they can get if they’re able to think and work creatively, Wettrick said.

“It’s getting them out of the school. It does not get more real-world than this,” he said.

Projects include looking for ways to cut schools’ energy costs with solar power and helping special education students master what they’re taught through tablet devices.

In pursuing their projects, students were told they could focus on issues the school district is facing, but Wettrick said he also expected them to research how their work could apply beyond Franklin.

While the students are expected to work independently, they also check in with Wettrick regularly in class and post blogs online. He wants to know what progress they’ve made, what unexpected challenges they’ve met and how they plan to overcome those.

To keep the students inspired, Wettrick arranged for video conferences between the class and Microsoft Vice President Anthony Salcito and author Daniel Pink. Wettrick previously worked with Microsoft as part of its innovative educator program.

The video conferences help show students what kinds of careers are available for them while the projects, regular updates and feedback are preparing them for the workforce, Wettrick said.

“I’m wanting them to grow their own digital brand. I want them to tweet their results. I want them to blog their results. I want them to become student experts in their field. I see them becoming a think tank for the school,” he said.

This kind of creative coursework is exactly the kind of cutting-edge education today’s brightest students need. It’s thoroughly grounded academically yet involves real-world application not just in its project orientation but in its method, letting students learn the kind of collegial approach that is vital in the workplace.

We commend Wettrick on his creative course. It’s a model other school districts can emulate as they seek to make students’ educations more relevant.

Students who finish high school with a clearer idea of the workplace environment are much more likely to succeed. The creative course in Franklin gives students a better idea of what to expect when they working.

As Wettrick put it: “A lot of cool, real-world experiences for them.”

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